Tuesday, January 7, 2014

December - En danske jul, min fødselsdag, og nytår!

Hi again,

Here’s a post dedicated to one of my favorite months – December!
I’ve been excited for a Danish Christmastime since I arrived, and it didn’t disappoint. Danish Christmas was definitely a different and exciting experience for me. Christmas decorations here, which as I said started appearing in November, are amazing. There were three or four giant trees around the town that I believe are still up. The town walking street was completely decorated with lights, garlands, and trees. It really looked beautiful. Some of the houses had American style lights and yard decorations. There were even trees scattered around the school. These decorations were gradually built up until Christmas finally came.

Sometime towards the beginning of December I went with my host family and my exchange student friend to Tivoli. Tivoli is absolutely beautiful at Christmastime, with lights everywhere. We saw a play called the Crazy Christmas Cabaret. It is put on every year in Denmark by some British comedians and actors. It was the funniest show I have ever seen, and if you ever get the chance to see it, do! Here's Tivoli!

Before school got out for the holiday, we had a fun final day. We just saw some entertainment from one of the classes and had a julecafe. Cafes at school are parties that are more low-key than the big parties. They mostly consist of people just sitting and drinking beer and having a good time. (The drinking culture is completely different here, and as I've said, I plan to make a post on it sometime in the future.)

Something that I absolutely loved having throughout December was the julekalender. Every year, there is a new series for December. Every day up to the 24th, there is a new episode about half an hour long. I watched two julekalenders with my family, one new one this year (Tvillingerne og Julemanden) and one from a few years ago (Pagten). I personally liked this year's better, and it was easier to understand. They were a nice way to end the day. Here’s a short video from an episode of this year’s julekalender. Can you understand anything?

Okay so first of all, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th here, or juleaften. Our Christmas Day is the første juledag (first day of Christmas), and not much happens then. But I think that Christmas Eve more than makes up for it.

On the 23rd of December, I went with my family to our brand new summer house. Most Danish families have little summer houses to get away to occasionally, and my family has just bought one. We spent the day with family friends, an old tradition (I think we figured that they’ve spent about twenty-five years together now!). It was a pleasant day, and we came home late and slept deeply (and visions of sugarplums danced in their heads…).

Then came the much-anticipated Christmas Eve! The day started by decorating the tree. A few weeks previous, we had gone and cut down our own tree, but decorating has to wait for Christmas. My favorite part was probably the fact that the tree had real live candles on it. It looked beautiful when it was all lit up at night! Here are a few tree pictures:

In the afternoon we went to church. I am not religious, and I haven’t been to church since I was maybe five years old (I had two weeks of Sunday school I think). But it was interesting to be there. We sang Danish Christmas music and listened to the sermon. It wasn’t a very long mass. Something I loved was the fact that it was in an old church – and when I say old, I mean old. It was first built in 1200 or something like that! Of course it’s received renovations and most likely been rebuilt at one point or another, but it was so cool to just be in a place with that long of a history, even if it was just a standard Danish church. America is so young!

At night the extended family came over for Christmas dinner. I think we had seventeen people total. I had already met most of them, but I did meet a couple new people. We had a veritable feast with food that was just heavenly: goose, red cabbage, duck, potatoes, pork, sauce, and more. And after the meal, we had the traditional risalamande, which is a rice and almond pudding thing with warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is placed into it, and whoever finds the almond gets a present. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the almond.

After dinner came presents. I was surprised to receive four packages from America for Christmas (thanks, everyone!). Every gift I received from Americans was either candy or cold-weather clothes. To a girl from Massachusetts, it’s not even cold here yet! We haven’t even had any snow! From my Danish host family I received a big Hans Christian Anderson storybook in Danish. I have read H. C. Anderson since I was little, and I’m really excited to read all of the stories in their original language.

The tradition that made juleaften complete was dancing around the Christmas tree. Yes, dancing around the tree! This is something that Danes are always shocked to find out we don’t have in the U.S. We sang the usual tree songs and held hands in a circle around the tree. For one of the songs, we ran around the house in a big chain! It was a lot of fun, if a bit strange for me.

But Christmas wasn’t the only big part of December! On the 28th was my sixteenth birthday. My day started off with the wakeup call of the Danish birthday song from my entire family. The Danish birthday song is really long and complicated, so they just sang a couple verses. We had a lovely breakfast, and I received my presents: a silver charm bracelet (like Pandora, but Danish design) and miniature Danish flag. Then I was off. I had an amazing day with the exchange students. We went to Sweden! It’s really amazing how easy it is to get from one country to another here. Sweden is just a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen. (Now I can say I’ve been to four countries outside the U.S.) I had a fantastic day. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. For the night I had two friends sleep over, and we had some delicious cake from my host mom. Overall, an amazing birthday.

We were a very international group! USA, Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Spain, France, and Thailand

An ice sculpture in progress on the street

Sweden has cool train stations

Fast forward a few days to New Year’s Eve! I had an absolutely incredible night. I took the train to Køge, which is about an hour and a half away, and met with some exchange students. We had a calm but wonderful and hyggeligt night. It was just perfect to bring in the New Year with new friends in a new country. At midnight we went out to see the fireworks. It was just great – instead of a town setting off fireworks here, everyone sets off their own! We were surrounded by colors and sound. We even had some of our own. Wherever you looked, you could see fireworks. It seemed almost like people were more united, because they were all celebrating with each other and for each other. The night was, in the words of my friend, positively euphoric. It was unbelievable.

Well, that was my December! In other news, since the New Year, I’ve spoken only Danish (except for in a couple situations). It’s been great so far, if a bit of a challenge, and I can tell that it’s helping me a lot. My friends and family are all so helpful with it. At this point, I think I understand 75-90% of spoken language, and I can carry out conversations (undoubtedly with many mistakes). But I'm sticking to it! Additionally, there’s a new exchange student in my school! She’s from Australia. She flew in two days ago, so she’s still jetlagged. I don’t think she’s with AFS. I talked to her for a couple minutes, but not much. Some of the bigger gymnasiums in Denmark have ten or more exchange students from all different organizations, but I go to a smaller gymnasium. But now there are three exchange students in my school, which is exciting!

Coming up in the next months: me stressing over my applications for schools for next year (almost done, thank goodness); my halfway point of being here (in a couple weeks); lots of AFS fun, including small trips and a 1 week homestay on the other side of Denmark; undoubtedly very much hygge with friends; maybe a trip with classmates; February vacation, maybe a trip then; and who-knows-what-else. I look forward to it! I'm still having the time of my life, and a New Year's resolution of mine was to make the most of my time here. So let's see where 2014 takes me!

That’s all for now! Hope you enjoyed! Farvel :)



  1. Oh my goodness, those lights are beautiful! It's always interesting to see how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. Were there any American Christmas traditions your host family were surprised by?

    1. Aren't they? Yes, it definitely is! My host family was surprised at the fact that we don't use real candles on the tree, and also that my family uses an angel on top instead of a star (even though we're non-religious). Many people here were surprised that we don't eat goose or duck for the Christmas dinner, and that we open presents in the morning instead of night. And I think they were also surprised that we don't have a plastic tree and a million lights outside like in the movies.